Of course, with the knowledge that I have now, I wish I’d been more open and willing in my journey to faith but the truth is my investigation into the Catholic Church was initially driven by pride and spite rather than a deep sense of morality. I didn’t begin learning about God out of a desire to know Him better as I suspect is the case for many Catholic converts.
I began going to church because I wanted to be able to have an educated conversation with my parents about why I was not Catholic. In short, I wanted to be able to better argue my case. I spent my days pondering the faith and trying my best to poke holes in it. Eventually, in addition to attending Sunday mass every week I also began participating in Right of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) at my home parish in order to dive deeper into the scripture and truly understand the Catholic perspective. This was one of the best decisions I could have made at the time as RCIA is designed to educate skeptical non-Catholics like myself as well as guide them through the process of being received fully into the church through the Sacraments of Initiation.
Here there were no silly questions and I was encouraged to voice my concerns and hang-ups about the faith. Each week we dissected the Sunday liturgy to give context to the Bible readings before diving into a group Q&A. Through this process I realized that all of my resistance to the faith could be boiled down to just a few questions which I’ll be discussing on this blog soon. However, on the whole, my values were very much in line with Catholic teachings. I already actively sought to live a generally Catholic life despite my previous lack of formal worship, particularly on topics like marriage, the right to life and Catholic virtues.
During my high school years I sometimes attended weekly mass with my parents and on one of these occasions I took a good look at the people there. I was struck by how similar they seemed to me in dress and mannerisms. Even then I knew that it was a crowd in which I could easily fit in but I would have been doing it simply to make my parents happy. That seemed a poor and dishonest reason to convert to the faith and was quickly dismissed. Years later in RCIA I was hit with the same realization but with a much stronger understanding of the faith. I still generally looked and acted like a Catholic but now had a solid basis for doing so beyond the fact that it was just how my parents raised me.
I do believe that God intended for me to be Catholic despite the first 21 years of my life that were spent without worship. Although some church teachings were harder learned than others, I’m happy to have had the opportunity to come to the faith as an adult and to truly choose God with my whole heart.
It seems that in the current society of pride and coexistence, skepticism for traditional marriage has reached an all time high. It is commonplace to cohabitate for two to five years before even broaching the subject of life long love and commitment. People say that ‘it’s just a piece of paper’ and ‘most marriages end in divorce anyway’ as excuses to not strive for a successful one. Much like having children, marriage is so often likened to a jail sentence.
Of course any legal contract is only as binding as the two parties which have committed to it but that’s not what God intended for this blessed sacrament. In order to encounter the bliss of God’s work through marriage, one question must be answered.
What is the goal of marriage?
The goal of marriage is NOT to have fun or to have financial security. It’s not even to be happy (you or your spouse). All of these things are byproducts of marriage but when boiled down to its core, the goal of marriage is to get your spouse into Heaven. Marriage is constant sacrifice and service but also, I believe, the closest we can get to Heaven on Earth. If you are truly, sacramentally married you can always rest easy knowing that there is a human being out there in the world who has made it their mission in life to ensure your soul enters the Kingdom of God.
You wouldn’t wear basketball shorts and a t-shirt to meet the king of England would you? Why then is it acceptable to wear such things to mass?
When you go to mass or Eucharistic adoration you are in the presence of our king, our lord and savior, Jesus Christ. The sanctuary is His throne room. It is a great honor to witness and reverence our God and ought to be treated as such. If more people grasped the true weight of the mass, a reenactment of Christ dying on the cross for our sins, I think we’d see more suits in the pews on Sunday. This isn’t your mother’s living room, but the house of God.
In the hustle and bustle of 2022 it’s easy to forget to put our best foot forward when we go to worship. Sometimes it can feel like we’re just checking a box before hurrying off to the next Sunday errand or activity. Imagine how God might speak to you if you slowed down, took the time to make yourself presentable, and actually immersed yourself in worship. We are called to turn to God in all things including how we present ourselves to the world.
This photo was snapped by one of my parents on one of many bright morning family hikes up Red Mountain. It’s a view I grew up falling in love with and I feel so blessed that I get to return to it nearly every year.
I spent most of my life believing that the secret to happiness was to lead a life of no regret and fully dedicated myself to that cause. There is a lesson to be learned from every mistake and I’ve made plenty of those. I explained away each and every one of them by extracting a nugget of truth from the experience and carrying it with me through all of my endeavors. This is a useful practice and I highly recommend it to maintain a solution oriented lifestyle.
However, a life of no regret is not necessarily a life without sin. I was convinced that guilt was a useless emotion. So long as I learned from my blunders I felt free to move on from them. In this way I often successfully refused to acknowledge any shame I might feel for those things that I wish I’d done differently.
It wasn’t until I became Catholic that I realized the error in my thinking. Everyone knows that the first step to solving a problem is admitting that you have one. This was the critical missing piece of the puzzle that only Catholic reconciliation could drive home to me.
Even after fully embarking on my journey to faith, I questioned the merits of Catholic confession. I’m no saint but I always considered myself a generally intelligent, compassionate, good person and God is all knowing. He knows my heart. Why then would I have to divulge my wrongdoings to some priest who may or may not know me when I could simply offer my sins directly to God?
The first answer is the simplest one. During confession the priest acts in persona Christi. In Latin this means that he is acting “in the person of Christ.” By confessing my sins to him I am confessing directly to Christ and God himself. However, this only answers part of the question. It gives the ‘how’ but I still wondered why.
It’s easy enough to doll out the words “I’m sorry” when we know we’ve made a mistake or as a means of avoiding conflict. They can even become automatic in an effort to be polite to those around us. But in order to truly be absolved of our sins we must first feel remorse for them. A hurried apology on our way to the next activity doesn’t cut it when seeking God’s forgiveness. The act of sincerely seeking atonement for our wrongs helps us to be worthy to receive it. Thus I discovered the use for guilt. Only when we grasp the weight of our mistakes are we properly motivated to seek forgiveness and to strive to do better.
But even a sincere apology to God Himself does not absolve us of our sins. Catholic reconciliation is not complete until we have performed a penance. We offer some action of atonement to God in reparation for our sins. It is an assurance of our commitment to turn away from sin in the future and turn instead toward God in all things. We’re only human after all, flawed and fallen and ever seeking God’s grace. In the blessed sacrament of reconciliation and all other sacraments that we celebrate in the Catholic church, we can be granted that grace on Earth.
I’ve never been so motivated to better myself than when I first allowed regret to color my life. In many ways I did a complete 180, upending the status quo and rewriting my core views of the world. I’ve also never been so relieved and full of joy as I was when I finally realized how God is divinely merciful, loving and forgiving us in all of our brokenness, including mine. We aren’t meant to wallow in shame but we are meant to feel it and to do something about it.
Today’s photos were captured on a couple of crisp autumn hikes out in the Indiana wilderness. It felt as though we’d stepped into an magical elven kingdom of gold and silver. Nearly every two minutes I had to stop to snap a picture in awe of all that God created.